Category Archives: Malcolm X

The Pencil Today:

HotAirLogoFinal Monday

THE QUOTE

“My alma mater was books, a good library. I could spend the the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” — Malcolm X

X

BOOK SHOW-OFFS

Susan Taitel was one of my cool pals back in my Whole Foods Market days. We worked together in the wine and cheese department at the Evanston, Illinois store before I got bumped up to the education department and she took off for Minneapolis to write books.

Taitel’s been hyper productive the last year, having churned out three manuscripts (god, I hate her). Still she’s managed to consume some 48 books, evenly split between the audio variety and traditional hard copy stuff. Search me how she does it.

From her website

In any case, she has kept a running list of the books she’s read and posted same on her website. She also breaks down her 2012 reading by books read on Kindle or where she got her traditional books (borrowed from friends or the library, for instance). It’s OCD elevated to the most positive level.

Sure, and it’s braggadocio as well. So what? It’s books! I heartily recommend that everyone who visits this indispensable site (mine, that is, although you’re welcome to drop in on Susan‘s) do the same.

Let’s all brag about what books we’ve read in the past year.

My own list will be woefully incomplete because I had not kept a real time running count throughout the year. So, I’ll just say my fave things that I read in 2012 included:

Book Cover

Just to show how inaccurate this micro-list might be, it’s entirely possible I read one or more of those titles sometime in 2011.

Thanks to Susan Taitel, though, I’m going to keep my list faithfully in 2013.

How about you?

THE WATERMELON MAN

I’ve been seeing a lot of links to a site alternately identified as Samuel Warde and Liberals Unite. It’s pretty boilerplate polemic stuff — every time some hillbilly drawls out the word negro so that it almost, maybe, if you listen really closely, sounds like nigger, the site runs a headline as if the Republicans are pushing for a return to slavery.

Until the other night, I never clicked on one of those links. I have enough of my own bile stored up for the GOP, thank you. I don’t need some canary in a coalmine website roiling my blood for every insult, real or imagined.

Anyway, for some reason I’ve already forgotten I clicked on a link that read “Kentucky Man Decorates Lawn With Obama Mannequin Holding A Watermelon.” The link was put up by the Facebook site, I Acknowledge Class Warfare Exists, which I subscribe to, but I’m not a fanatic about either.

From Facebook

So, I get to the story in Liberals Unite about this fellow, named Danny Hafley, who has told questioners he put the mannequin up around Halloween and has kept it up since, and he later put a big fake wedge of watermelon in the faux prez’s hands “because he might get hungry.”

Har-de-har-har.

I didn’t even look at the vid showing an interview with the laugh-a-minute Hafley. I mean I can’t get riled up about every dope who makes racist statements and then, as Hafley did, denies being a racist.

From Liberals Unite

Naw, It’s Not A Bit Racist.

Sure, I hope a bunch of big dogs piss on the mannequin and then when Hafley hauls the thing back into his living room, he can’t figure out what the odor is. Then again, such a refined soul just might not notice anything amiss.

In any case, I discovered something compelling. There was an ad on the site for Ann Coulter’s daily column (no link; she doesn’t need me to pimp for her). We all know Ann Coulter, right? She’s just Danny Hafler with a miniskirt, long, blond, stringy hair, skinny legs, and the worldview of a John Bircher, circa 1959.

Coulter

Right-Wing Porn

Why, then, would Ann Coulter be advertising on an ultra-liberal website? Was the ad placed there in error?

Hell no!

At this point in this holy land’s weird, weird history, nobody listens to or reads Ann Coulter anymore except liberals who get off on having apoplexy every time she puts forth what passes for “thought.” Liberals support Ann Coulter and, for all I know, half or most of the whacked-out, wing-nutted, far-right demagogues and gangs out there. Without liberal anguish, these circus sideshow freaks would shrivel up and die.

Me? I don’t care what Ann Coulter says any longer. The next thing I want to read about Ann Coulter is that Dorothy’s house has fallen on her after the tornado.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” — Malcolm X

WHERE THE WILDINGS ARE

Remember “wilding”?

No one had ever heard of it before 1989. Then, in the summer of that year, it seemed the entire nation knew what wilding was.

The frightened citizens of this holy land learned that wilding was a brand spanking new terror campaign being waged by organized gangs of black youths wherein they’d run through parks, city streets, and, conceivably, your very living room, raping and pillaging and otherwise having a night of it.

We found out about this new threat to our very existence as a nation and a race because some poor woman had been found raped, unconscious, and left for dead in New York City’s Central Park on April 19th. She was white and an investment banker, [EDs Note: Line deleted. It was a throwaway line meant to make a point and be joke-y at the same time. It was, in retrospect, too offensive.]

Some brown boys were rounded weeks later. It was learned they’d been roaming around the park causing the usual hoodlum mayhem, perhaps even as the woman was being brutalized.

Naturally, NYC cops’ and prosecutors’ mouths watered.

The story of the woman’s assault sickened the nation. Her skull, for pete’s sake, had been caved in by a rock.

The cops, traditionalists at heart, relied on investigatory techniques tried and true from decades past: They tortured confessions out of five of the brown boys.

Americans might have heaved a collective sigh of relief save for the nagging terror that similar groups of young brown boys would soon be “wilding” from coast to coast.

Hell, Hollywood even got in on the act, spitting out cheap films with the word in their titles, starring the likes of Joey Travolta and Erik Estrada.

No Oscars Were Harmed In The Making Of These Pictures

Donald Trump muscled into the hysteria by calling for the death penalty to be reinstated in New York, specifically so the boys could be executed.

It took a few years but the truth eventually seeped out: “wilding” was bullshit.

While the brown boys were being run through the gauntlet, one of them blurted out the word. It was his inartful way of describing what he and his gang were doing in Central Park that night. The cops, the media, and the public bought the concept as if it were a subprime mortgage.

The fear of a coming wave of wilding spread rapidly.

I bring this all up because TV historian Ken Burns has recently completed a documentary about the case, called “The Central Park Five.” In it, he delves into the convictions of the boys, who were found guilty and served lengthy prison sentences.

Some 13 years after the incident a serial rapist and murderer confessed to the crime. His confession was confirmed by DNA analysis, which also exculpated the boys (now men). Their convictions have been vacated.

Some of the five are suing the city in federal court for the wrongful convictions. Now the city’s legal department is demanding Burns turn over evidence to them for use in the defense against the suits.

This after they refused to cooperate with him when he was delving into the case. In fact, he claims they tried to prevent him from getting much of the evidence he presents in the doc. Now that he’s got it, though, they want it.

Apparently, in the arena of the courts, the City of New York is out “wilding.”

This time, it’s real.

The Color Of Guilt


The only events listings you need in Bloomington.

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Brought to you by The Electron Pencil: Bloomington Arts, Culture, Politics, and Hot Air. Daily.

ART ◗ Ivy Tech Waldron Center, outside WFHB StudiosPublic participation in creating a ten-foot sculpture called “The Angel,” Rain or shine; 9am-5pm

FESTIVAL ◗ Town of Bloomfield, various locations2012 Bloomfield Apple Festival, music, contests, parade, games, food, etc.; 9am-10pm, through Sunday

STUDIO TOUR ◗ Brown County, various locationsThe Backroads of Brown County Studio Tour, free, self-guided tour of 16 local artists’ & craftspersons’ studios; 10am-5pm, through October

ART & ARCHAEOLOGY ◗ IU Center  for the Study of Global Change, Seminar Room — The Wal-Mart Syndrome in Neolithic Northwestern China? — A Study of Majiayao Painted Pottery; Noon

MUSIC ◗ IU Willkie QuadrangleFriday Noon Concert Series: Daniel Duarte & Rodrigo Almedia, guitars; Noon

FILM ◗ IU Cinema — “Dust Up“; 3pm

SPORTS ◗ IU Field Hockey FacilitiesHoosier women’s field hockey vs. Iowa; 3:30pm

RETREAT ◗ TC Steele State Historic SiteAutumnal Women’s Retreat: Sisters in Sync, Creative projects, yoga, journaling, hiking, crafts, massage, etc.; 5:00pm, through the weekend

ART ◗ Downtown Bloomington, various locationsOctober Gallery Walk, 5-8pm, participating galleries & opening receptions:

  • The Venue Fine Art & Gifts — “Dark & Ethereal,” by Lydia Burris
  • Pictura Gallery — “Cuba Libre: Photographs,” by Tyagan Miller, David Moore, Gerardo Gonzalez
  • WonderLabScience of Art: Woodturning, demonstration presented by Dan Dutra
  • By Hand GalleryMicrocosmic drawings & monoprints by Martha Kaplan
  • Gallery 406
  • Royale Hair Parlor
  • Blueline Creative Co-op & Gallery
  • El Norteno GalleryAutumn Fantasies, by Yelena Yahontova
  • Ivy Tech Waldron CenterOctober exhibits, see ONGOING, below

ART ◗ IU SoFA, Room 015Exhibition opening lecture: Art & Virtue, presented by Professor Emeritus Michael Metzger; 5:30pm

MIXER ◗ The Player’s PubAtheists Happy Hour; 5:30pm

POETRY ◗ Fountain Square MallFountain Square Poetry Series: Readings by Richard Durisen, Jonathan Holland, Lisa Kwong, Anya Peterson Royce, Music by Bloomington Peace Choir; 5:30pm

SPORTS ◗ Frank Southern Ice ArenaIU hockey vs. Youngstown State; 6:30pm

FILM ◗ IU Fine Arts TheaterRyder Film Series: “Stars in Shorts“; 6:45pm

HALLOWE’EN ◗ Haunted Hayride & Stables, 8308 S. Rockport Rd.; 7pm

HALLOWE’EN ◗ Bakers Junction Railroad Museum, SmithvilleHaunted train; 7pm

HALLOWE’EN ◗ Valley Branch Retreat, NashvilleHorrifying Hike & Terrifying Trail; 7-10pm

FILM ◗ IU Cinema — “A Nightmare on Elm Street“; 3pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Dunn MeadowHomecoming week free concert featuring South Jordan & Zach Majors; 7pm

MUSIC ◗ Muddy Boots Cafe, NashvilleKade Puckett; 7-9pm

SPORTS ◗ IU GymnasiumHoosier volleyball vs. Iowa; 7pm

FILM ◗ IU Woodburn Hall TheaterRyder Film Series: “Meet the Fokkens“; 7:15pm

STAGE ◗ Bloomington Playwrights ProjectComedy, “Rx”; 7:30pm

STAGE ◗ Brown County Playhouse, NashvilleDrama, “Last Train to Nibroc”; 7:30pm

ART ◗ IU SoFA, McCalla SchoolThe Fuller Projects: Hanging Tales, by Jennifer Garst; 7:30pm

WORLD CULTURE ◗ Rachael’s CafeFall 2012 Coffeehouse: Music, dance, etc., presented by IU Dept. of Folklore & Ethnomusicology; 7:30pm

MUSIC ◗ The Player’s PubThe Vallures; 8pm

MUSIC ◗ IU Auer HallIU Singing Hoosiers, director, Steve Zegree; 8pm

COMEDY ◗ The Comedy AtticJackie Kashian; 8pm

MUSIC ◗ Cafe DjangoMilestones Jazz Quintet; 8pm

MUSIC ◗ Serendipity Martini BarSam Hoffman & Anna Butterss; 8-11pm

MUSIC ◗ Chateau Thomas Wine BarPhil Bowman & Leo Hickman; 8-10pm

FILM ◗ IU Fine Arts TheaterRyder Film Series: “Neighboring Sounds“; 8:30pm

MUSIC ◗ Max’s Place Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, King Bee & the Stingers; 8:30pm

FILM ◗ IU Woodburn Hall TheaterRyder Film Series: “The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls“; 9pm

MUSIC ◗ The BluebirdClayton Anderson; 9pm

MUSIC ◗ Muddy Boots Cafe, NashvilleKara Barnard, Chuck Willis; 9:30-11:30pm

COMEDY ◗ The Comedy AtticJackie Kashian; 10:30pm

ONGOING:

ART ◗ IU Art MuseumExhibits:

  • “New Acquisitions,” David Hockney; through October 21st
  • Paintings by Contemporary Native American Artists; through October 14th
  • “Paragons of Filial Piety,” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi; through December 31st
  • “Intimate Models: Photographs of Husbands, Wives, and Lovers,” by Julia Margaret, Cameron, Edward Weston, & Harry Callahan; through December 31st
  • French Printmaking in the Seventeenth Century;” through December 31st
  • Celebration of Cuban Art & Film: Pop-art by Joe Tilson; through December 31st
  • Workers of the World, Unite!” through December 31st

ART ◗ Ivy Tech Waldron CenterExhibits:

  • Ab-Fab — Extreme Quilting,” by Sandy Hill; October 5th through October 27th
  • Street View — Bloomington Scenes,” by Tom Rhea; October 5th through October 27th
  • From the Heartwoods,” by James Alexander Thom; October 5th through October 27th
  • The Spaces in Between,” by Ellen Starr Lyon; October 5th through October 27th

ART ◗ IU SoFA Grunwald GalleryExhibit:

  • “Samenwerken,” Interdisciplinary collaborative multi-media works; through October 11th

ART ◗ IU Kinsey Institute GalleryExhibits opening September 28th:

  • A Place Aside: Artists and Their Partners;” through December 20th
  • Gender Expressions;” through December 20th

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibit:

  • “CUBAmistad” photos

ART ◗ IU Mathers Museum of World CulturesExhibits:

  • “¡Cuba Si! Posters from the Revolution: 1960s and 1970s”
  • “From the Big Bang to the World Wide Web: The Origins of Everything”
  • “Thoughts, Things, and Theories… What Is Culture?”
  • “Picturing Archaeology”
  • “Personal Accents: Accessories from Around the World”
  • “Blended Harmonies: Music and Religion in Nepal”
  • “The Day in Its Color: A Hoosier Photographer’s Journey through Mid-century America”
  • “TOYing with Ideas”
  • “Living Heritage: Performing Arts of Southeast Asia”
  • “On a Wing and a Prayer”

BOOKS ◗ IU Lilly LibraryExhibit:

  • Outsiders and Others:Arkham House, Weird Fiction, and the Legacy of HP Lovecraft;” through November 1st
  • A World of Puzzles,” selections form the Slocum Puzzle Collection

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ Soup’s OnExhibit:

  • Celebration of Cuban Art & Culture: “CUBAmistad photos; through October

PHOTOGRAPHY ◗ Monroe County History CenterExhibit:

  • Bloomington: Then and Now,” presented by Bloomington Fading; through October 27th

ARTIFACTS ◗ Monroe County History CenterExhibit:

  • “Doctors and Dentists: A Look into the Monroe County Medical professions

The Electron Pencil. Go there. Read. Like. Share.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” — Malcolm X

THE ANNUAL ELECTRON PENCIL PENNILESS LIST

What a coincidence!

Only two days after Forbes Magazine released its yearly list of the world’s billionaires, we at The Electron Pencil proudly present our inaugural annual roster of broke Americans.

Forbes Got Nuthin’ On Us

(We are working with our crack legal team to determine if we have a case against Forbes. It is our assertion that Forbes intentionally scheduled its release to upstage our eagerly awaited list of the Penniless. Stayed tuned for more developments.)

Several of the Forbes select few have expressed displeasure at having information about their personal finances splashed all over magazines, newspapers, radio, and TV. Our lucky few are circumspect as well. In fact, each of them has pleaded with us not to reveal their identities or net worth.

Forbes Porn

But we are nothing if not tireless, intrepid journalists. Our commitment to unearth the truth no matter the consequences must trump their desire for privacy. As a compromise, we will not use the full names of our honorees.

Now then, here is The Annual Electron Pencil Penniless List:

  • Ronald H.: A talented jazz saxophonist, Mr. H. recently moved out of his cozy pied-à-terre on the west side of Bloomington. He is now “traveling.” In other words, he is homeless. Mr. H. was ousted from his position as Vice President of Facilities Maintenance for a local elementary school last spring. He was a casualty of school budget cuts. He carries the entirety of his possessions in his backpack which has a missing zipper. Sharp-eyed passersby can catch glimpses of Mr. H.’s holdings when his backpack flap flips open. He is considered among the most open and transparent of our 2012 honorees.
  • Miranda P.: She and her two children — Zach, 5, and Lily, 3 — also are “traveling.” Mrs. P. is currently in the process of dissolving her partnership with Joshua P., who last December attempted a hostile takeover of her finances. Mr. P. at the time was putting together a straight cash transaction for sub-legal pharmaceuticals. When Mrs. P. rejected his entreaties for her cash, he threatened and eventually carried out a night-time assault upon her face. Mrs. P.’s jaw was wired shut and the discoloration around her eyes lasted well into the new year. Middle Way House now serves as temporary headquarters for Mrs. P.’s break-away firm.
  • Jeremy M.: Mr. M.’s home was ranked number one in Car and Driver’s 1992 Best Selling Cars list. His curbfront domicile is known popularly among neighbors as as “that damned red Taurus.” He inherited it from his grandfather who passed away in 2006 while Mr. P. was finishing up his master’s degree in fine arts. Mr. P. is looking to diversify by applying for work at Rally’s Hamburgers, Kroger on 2nd Street, and the Subway at Walnut and 6th streets. Some observers say Mr. P.’s total wealth has been adversely affected by his ill-advised leveraging of student loans to acquire his degree. Mr. P. has responded that his degree has been valued in certain quarters at $1.7 million over his lifetime, as opposed to his total debt load of $53,000. Mr. P. was recently seen purchasing a rare pair of red Chuck Taylors at the Salvation Army Thrift Store on North Rogers Street.
  • Kevin W.: A pioneer in the field of bipolar disorder patientry, Mr. W. visits the four corners of Bloomington on his daily perambulations. He is known far and wide as an often accessible member of the local penniless community. He has made enemies, though, during the days before he receives his monthly dosage of lithium. Mr. W. impresses with his ability to identify the day of the week of any random date a questioner might suggest. Some analysts believe this indicates he also possesses a form of Asperger’s Syndrome which would help solidify his inclusion in future Penniless lists.
  • Jana C.: A long-time leader in the local physical pleasure industry, Ms. C. recently became affiliated with Narcotics Anonymous and has indicated she may be looking to move on to other fields. Her ambitions may be tempered by the pressing needs of members of the housing, utilities, and grocery industries for immediate remuneration for services and goods. When her liquidity sank to an all-time low in February, Ms. C. confided to close friends that she may never be entirely free to leave the sex industry.

We salute our Penniless achievers.

TIME IS NOT MONEY

Speaking of the penniless, our go-to researcher R.E. Paris points out that Lester Chambers of the 1960′s power soul group, the Chambers Brothers, has fallen on the hardest of times.

Chambers posted an Occupy Wall Street-type letter on You Tube describing his unfortunate state this week. The post went viral.

Chambers says the recording contract he and his band mates signed in the mid-60′s screwed him out of royalties. He writes, “Only 1% of artists can sue. I am the 99%.”

The Electron Pencil ran a video of the Chambers Brothers’ hit, “Time Has Come Today,” earlier this year.

POT IS MONEY

So, the spectacularly crazed Pat Robertson has come out in favor of the legalization of marijuana.

Wild, huh?

Maybe no so wild when you think about it. Perhaps the human race’s pipeline to the creator of the universe has concluded that too many of his hard-pressed contributors are turning to pot harvesting for him to continue being a prohibitionist.

Pat Knows: You Can’t Contribute If You’re In The Joint

Frankly, this development bums me out, man. I’ve been for the legalization of pot for decades. Sadly, now that Pat Robertson is as well, I’ll have to change my position.

Damn.

Come to think of it, doesn’t he look sorta high in the photo on the link?

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF SARAH

Roger Ebert digs the new HBO movie about Sarah Palin. Actually, “Game Change” is supposed to be about the failed 2008 run of John McCain for president but, honestly, McCain wasn’t the story at all.

I’m tempted to watch the movie but the casting of Julianne Moore as the winking dolt is problematic for me: I like Moore and I’d hate to have her associated with the New White Oprah from now on.

No, Julianne, No!

Too bad the producers couldn’t get Palin to play herself. Ebert describes her as “the greatest actress in American political history.”

ASK THE ANGELS

Patti Smith, babies.

Across the country, through the fields,

You know I see it written ‘cross the sky.

People rising from the highway

And war, war is the battle cry

And it’s wild, wild, wild, wild.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity — and I’m not sure about the former.” — Albert Einstein

A HEAVENLY PIONEER

Bloomington’s own Camilla Williams, international opera star and professor emeritus at IU, died Sunday. She was 92.

Williams

Williams was thought to be the first black woman to appear with a major US opera company, the New York City Opera in 1946. Her late husband, Charles Beavers, was an attorney for Malcolm X.

MASTER OF MINIMALISM

Philip Glass is 75 today. He is also still very, very cool.

Glass

Do yourself a favor and download the documentary, “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance.” It is a gloriously beautiful and ugly examination of life on late 20th Century Earth. It has no narrator; no human’s voice is heard throughout. The only sound you’ll hear is Glass’s musical score.

Glass presaged trance music by decades. And the composer certainly influenced Brian Eno, whose ambient forms beginning in the mid-1970s helped save the world from the navel-gazing pap of the likes of Kansas and other uber-pretentious prog rockers.

Eno

Glass may well be the composer music students in the year 2512 revere as they do Bach or Wagner today.

INDIANA: THE SQUARED STATE

Now that the great state o’Indiana is considering teaching the myth of Intelligent Design in our public schools, it’s worth keeping in mind that our fair fiftieth of this holy land once before attempted to throw a caveman’s club into the gears of intellectual progress.

Mental Floss points out that in the 1890s, an Indiana chucklehead by the name of Edward J. Goodwin fantasized that he’d discovered a method to “square the circle,” a long disproved mathematical exercise. Goodwin was convinced that by equating the circle with a square, one could easily find its area.

Part of Goodwin’s fever dream was to jigger with the value of pi, the constant that allows the sane among us to calculate a circle’s area. It was the equivalent of NASA navigators saying, “Aw, what the hell, let’s just call the distance to the moon 240,000 miles — what’s a couple thousand miles one way or another?”

Given that attitude, the mummified corpses of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin might today be floating several billion miles outside our Solar System.

Just Point That Thing Toward The Moon, Boys

Goodwin — from the town of Solitude, appropriately enough — told the world in the 1890s that he’d found the secret to squaring the circle. In the grand tradition of many another snake oil salesman, Goodwin was more than willing to let mathematicians and educators use his secret formula — for a price.

But he had a soft spot for Indiana and offered to let Hoosier State schools teach his method for free as long as the state legislature would enact a statute declaring his crackpot idea the real thing.

And guess what — several Indiana House committees studied his equations, including his insistence that pi should be 3.2 (as opposed to the accurate constant 3.141592653589793….) The committees approved Goodwin’s methods and wrote up a bill declaring pi to be 3.2 and the circle, legally, squared.

And then the full House approved the bill unanimously! By the time the nation’s newspapers got hold of this news and began to bray with laughter at Indiana, the state Senate defeated the bill. Even that vote was iffy after a Senate committee passed it onto the floor.

Science and Indiana — I wonder if this is the first time the two words have ever appeared together in print.

GIRL OF MY DREAMS

Another chestnut from my college radio years, by Bram Tchiakovsky.

Pure power pop poetry:

Judy was an American girl/

She came in the morning/

With the US Mail.

Enjoy the soaring melody, goosebump harmony, and bell-ringing rhythm chord progressions.

The Pencil Today:

TODAY’S QUOTE

“Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the world.” — Grace Paley

COURAGE

One of the most overused terms in sports is courage. A guy hits a single in the bottom of the ninth to win a baseball game for his team and the announcers gasp and coo that’s he’s exhibited an uncommon amount of courage.

Or the plucky college basketball team beats the number one team in the nation which, as we all know, happened a little more than a month ago right here in Bloomington. Sure enough, the announcers and the next day’s sports columnists all agreed: that plucky team was very courageous.

I call bullshit.

Courage?

There was only one truly courageous professional athlete I’ve ever seen. He was born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, 70 years ago today.

We know him as Muhammad Ali.

I’ve never given a damn about professional boxing. It’s a cruel sport. It’s nothing more than sanctioned assault and battery performed for the pleasure of the slobs who pay to watch.

Men batter each others’ brains into mush so promoters and TV execs can make millions.

You can have it.

But I was always a fan of Muhammad Ali. He was the first jock to understand that what he was doing, first and foremost, was entertaining.

“Float like a butterfly,” he said, “sting like a bee.”

Poetry.

“I am the greatest,” he proclaimed. “I said that even before I knew I was.”

Comedy.

“I wish people would love everybody else the way they love me,” he said.

Brilliant.

Muhammad Ali was strong. Muhammad Ali spent months training for a fight. Muhammad Ali endured blows that would disable or kill you and me. Muhammad Ali beat up dozens of men in the ring.

But nothing he did was courageous until he started looking at the question of black and white in America.

“Boxing,” he said, “is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”

No social commentator has ever uttered or typed a line with such clarity and perspicacity on the topic of race in America.

When he first became boxing’s champion, he had reached the pinnacle of all that a black man could achieve in this holy land. He knew it wasn’t enough.

“I know I got it made while the masses of black people are catchin’ hell,” he said, “but as long as they ain’t free, I ain’t free.”

Still going by the name Clay, he and Martin Luther King, Jr. were the most famous black men in the world. He was wealthy. What man would jeopardize that?

He did. Racism in America so disgusted him that he joined the Nation of Islam in 1964. He changed his name to Ali.

Ali With Malcolm X

All those white men watching him beat up another black men weren’t going to like that one bit. Muhammad Ali instantly became the man they loved to hate.

What professional athlete today would put at risk even one commercial shoot to breathe a word about freedom or race or poverty?

Muhammad Ali had work to do — work much more important than mashing the brains of another black man for the amusement of white men.

America’s Vietnam War was disposing of thousands of human beings a week. It was fought, disproportionately, by America’s blacks.

In 1966, when Ali was classified 1-A by the Selective Service System, he opted for courage.

He was ordered to report to the Army’s induction center in Houston in April, 1967. When the induction officer called his name, Ali refused to respond.

He could have run to Canada, as many young men were doing back then. He could have joined the National Guard, as many pro athletes were doing at the time as well. Joining the National Guard was a way of avoiding service in the regular Army and, consequently, being sent to Southeast Asia.

He’d chosen neither of those ways out.

Three times the induction officer called his name. Three times he stood tall and silent. Finally the officer warned him that refusing to respond was a felony punishable by five years in prison.

Ali remained mum.

He would say later, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. They never called me nigger.”

Which, by the way, was now the preferred appellation for him among so many of those white men who formerly enjoyed watching him beat up another black man.

Ali was immediately arrested and charged. He was found guilty by a jury two months later. He’d been stripped of his championship title by boxing’s regulating authorities the day he was arrested.

Ali Photographed By Gordon Parks During His Exile From Boxing

He gave up his career and his freedom and put his fortune at risk, all for something he believed in.

Something he believed in.

Which sports celebrity today believes in anything?

Which American today would risk a nickel on something he or she believes in?

It all turned out well for Muhammad Ali, of course. His conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court. He was allowed to compete for the heavywieght title again and he won it back.

In his doddering years, he has become this nation’s kindly, lovable grandpa. When he dies, politicians and wags will fall all over each other trying to be the first to say what a great man he was.

But on April 28, 1967, Muhammad Ali had no idea that would happen.

He only knew his public opposition to the Vietnam War was worth risking everything he had.

That was courage.

The Pencil Today:

I USED TO READ IT FOR THE ARTICLES — HONEST!

We sell Playboy at The Book Corner.

We get about five of them each month. Surprisingly, we sell them all.

One Of The Most Iconic Logos In American History

The guys who buy them are older, natch. Why would a young guy buy a quaint magazine that shows young women in various stages of dishabile when, on the interwebs, he can find nude women of every conceivable physiologic and topographic stripe?

Internet porn has made an entire generation of males far more familiar with the exo-geography of female genitalia than the typical country doctor of the 1880s was.

Every once in a while the news will carry a report that Playboy — the company — is in some kind of financial or market distress. Or that the Hefners, pere et fille, are venturing into something new — streaming video, say — that will make the brand relevant again.

But it’ll never be relevant again.

One day, probably soon, Playboy magazine will be no more. Andy Rooney’s gone, so he won’t be able to lament its passing. And Bob Greene probably is so gun shy about any topic having to do with sex that he’ll keep a mile away from it.

Maybe someone like Pete Hamill will write Playboy’s eulogy. We’ll see.

No matter. It’ll be dead. And that’s too bad. Sort of.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with Playboy magazine throughout my life which, coincidentally, almost matches the lifespan of the mag thus far. Playboy magazine and I both came out in the 1950s. Playboy’s made a hell of a lot more money over its lifetime than I have.

This Could Be The Start Of Something Big

One afternoon, my little pals and I found a waterlogged old Playboy behind the factories a couple of blocks north of our neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. It had to be around 1966. That would have made us ten.

We gathered around Danny, the toughest of us and therefore our leader, as he tore through the pages, looking for — as we so charmingly put it — the naked ladies.

August, 1966

He didn’t have to look far. The ad on the inside cover gave us that first delicious eyeful.

At that time, Winston cigarettes used the tagline, “It’s what’s up front that counts.” You could hear it all day long on TV (yup, kids, TV used to carry ads for smokes). The line ran in all Winston’s newspaper and magazine ads, too. Even in family media, the ads were an obvious double entendre.

Of course, Playboy had to lop the double off the entendre.

A chesty (what else?) gal stared out at us from the ad. She was wearing a man’s dress shirt, completely unbuttoned. Her torpedo breasts seemed to jump off the page at us.

I’m surprised one or more of us didn’t pass out.

She held in her fingers a Winston. Just beneath that shocking, riveting, blood-pressure-spurting picture of the almost-naked lady ran the tagline, “It’s what’s up front that counts.”

We literally fell to the ground laughing.

The ad was, to our pre-teen sensibilities, the single most sophisticatedly funny thing ever conceived by the human imagination. We laughed for at least five minutes over it.

Of course, we collected ourselves and got back to the serious business of searching for more naked ladies, of which we found a good deal.

We pored over that magazine like anthropologists studying the earliest hominid fossil yet found. The only difference was, anthropologists aren’t likely to gasp every few moments as they examine ancient bones.

So I won’t snow you and say I never looked at Playboy for the pictures. Good heavens, I had a three-year-long crush on Miss November, 1968, Paige Young.

Paige Young

(Note from responding paramedics: Big Mike has passed out. He should be fully recovered within minutes. He will resume typing his post at that time.)

But looking at naked ladies got old after a few minutes (oh, all right, a couple of hours). It was then I’d turn to the articles.

People today think of Hugh Hefner as the wizened old lech who gobbles Viagras like they’re Peanut M&Ms and tries to marry giddy blondes three at a time.

Man’s Best Friend

At one time, though, he was one of the most forward thinking people in America.

Okay, let’s try to get beyond the fact that he sowed the seeds of what is now this weird American predilection for cantaloupe-chested, impossibly thin-waisted, freakishly long-legged virtual-females.

I thumbed through a recent edition of the mag and, honestly, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t know what’s more disturbing — the look of blissful dumbness on the naked ladies’ faces or their quasi-human bodies.

Brooklyn Decker Does Not Exist In Real Life, Guys

So yes, Hugh Hefner has to answer for screwing up this holy land’s female physical ideal.

But one day, long ago, he and his mag introduced me to — or broadened my burgeoning awareness of — the concepts of civil rights, feminism, birth control, the anti-war movement, free speech, consumer protection, apartheid, the environment, and a host of other issues that define liberalism.

I could read in-depth interviews with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Marshall McLuhan, Bob Dylan, Jesse Jackson, Hunter S. Thompson, and Ayn Rand (yes, it’s important to hear the bleatings of the deranged, too).

Malcolm X

Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend Hugh Hefner was a great man of the ages. His Playboy philosophy elevated the acquisition of consumer goods and sexual partners to something akin to religious status. A man was not a man in Playboy nation if he didn’t drive a Corvette, drink Dewar’s, and bed at least two heretofore unknown women a week.

But, to borrow a phrase from that great philosopher Bill Veeck, I prefer tarnished genius to simon-pure mediocrity any day.

As loathsome as much of Hugh Hefner’s worldview was, just as much of it was liberating and enlightening.

“Hefner was fighting that part of the Puritan ethic that condemned pleasure,” writes David Halberstam of Hefner in the book. “The Fifties.”

True enough. If nothing else, Hefner helped America shed its prudish attitude toward sex. Sadly, we’ve now developed a giggly, dopey, 10-year-old boy’s attitude toward it. I don’t know which is better.

I do know Hugh Hefner’s mag awakened the socially conscious thinker in me. Nearly five decades later, I’ve gone way beyond Playboy when it comes to contemplating the issues of the day. Now I’d hope we’d all go way beyond its plasticized, airbrushed/photoshopped, vacuous image of female beauty.

Too bad. It hasn’t happened yet.

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